Interview: ArcheAge Unchained’s Merv Lee Kwai on housing, RMT, and the future of the game


The announcement of ArcheAge Unchained and its buy-to-play, no-pay-to-win ruleset has been one of the big surprises of the season for the five-year-old MMORPG – but a welcome one. As stream attendance and Reddit ups and comments show, people are excited about a true fresh start as Gamigo revitalizes an old favorite.

To get a clearer picture of what folks can expect from the new version, we poked around the brain of Gamigo’s Merv Lee Kwai, aka Khrolan, who gave us the scoop on housing rushes, battling RMT, servers, the business model, the future of both games, and where Unchained fits in the MMO industry.

Do note that we asked these questions before last week’s stream, meaning we didn’t know about the delay of Unchained to October 15th at the time. Read on!

MassivelyOP: Khrolan mentioned on one of the streams that the Unchained plan has been in the works for a long time – since before Gamigo bought up Trion, in fact. Can you talk about what Gamigo specifically brought to the plan that wasn’t necessarily in the works before? What else did Trion have cooking that might make its way into Gamigo’s version?

Merv Lee Kwai, Gamigo VP of Development: The buy-to-play version of ArcheAge existed in concept for well over two years. When gamigo purchased Trion, it was nothing more than lightly defined plans, some general framework, and an agreement to make it happen. gamigo strongly believed in the plan and doubled the size of the publishing team to prove it. This gave us the necessary capability to handle all the complexities required to deliver Unchained. Gamigo’s global presence also broadened the reach of the game, getting ArcheAge in front of customers who were unaware it existed.

Gamers seem to be embracing Gamigo’s plans to fight pay-to-win, but there’s still a lot of concern for RMT. How will the studio be combating the plague of goldselling, duping, hacking, and cheating, the sorts of things that created such a dark cloud for the original game?

Our multi-pronged initiative includes really cracking down at the policy level, adding much-needed client security, and a general mindset to aggressively combat past vulnerabilities. For example, in the Legacy version, we took strong action against gold sellers but were somewhat lax when it came to disciplining buyers. In the Unchained version, there’s a zero-tolerance approach to both buying and selling, resulting in severe disciplinary action on first offense. The Unchained version features a deep integration with Easy Anti-Cheat, explicitly targeting the historical vulnerabilities of the service.

Can we talk housing? Housing is serious business in ArcheAge, and in fact one of our writers was so upset over a server merge where she lost her homes that she abandoned the game entirely, so I understand why people are very concerned about Unchained’s real estate situation. I know you have removed tax certs and say that it will be exponentially more expensive to spend labor on hoarding territory and that you’ve added more housing space, but how are you going to deal with the land rush – especially in the early period when folks are sitting in queues while others are grabbing the best spots?

Let’s talk housing! Modern-day ArcheAge has multiple advantages that weren’t available during the original release, or on initial Fresh Start servers:

    1. The overall world size is roughly 30% larger due to the addition of new housing-focused zones, and the conversion of restricted housing zones into fully supportive residential areas.
    2. As you said, on Unchained, we don’t sell tax certificates, and alternate character accounts both require additional purchase and are restricted. This stands in stark contrast against the Legacy F2P environment where free account alts exist unchecked. Unchained doesn’t have “full kit” houses, meaning everyone must earn their housing deeds through gameplay, and build them from scratch. The whole ordeal is much more labor intensive in a world where labor isn’t purchasable.
    3. We disassociate the ability to claim houses with the live release. Unchained servers will unlock on October 15th, but land claiming is locked until October 19th, giving players a grace period to progress. Our last few land rushes followed this model and were quite successful.

Phew, that said, I think the most important part is how committed both gamigo and XLGAMES are to closely monitor housing occupancy, and we will take action if necessary.
(P.S. I’m sorry MJ, I know you loved your plots in Falcorth!)

Speaking of queues – how many servers do you guys have at the ready to bring online if the demand is wild?

We currently have two servers per region ready to go, with three more waiting in the wings. If necessary, we can scale up to 8 per region within a reasonable time frame.

In the time since we asked this question and Khrolan turned his answers around, it looks as if he’s decided they could be adding three at launch. Here’s the absolute latest from yesterday’s tweets:

This month has turned out to be a super busy month for the MMO industry, from WoW Classic to Guild Wars 2 and even Astellia Online, which launches the same week Unchained does [or was meant to, before Unchained was delayed, which we didn’t know when we asked]. Where do you folks think Unchained fits in there – a new MMO, an update, a fun nostalgia trip?

It’s been a fantastic month for the MMO industry, and it’s great to see so many folks from other genres trying out our virtual worlds for the first time. Unchained blazes a new path and sets out to do something different: It’s not just ArcheAge branded a different way; it embodies the conscious decision from the people who make and publish the game to deliver the version our players have always wanted. It meets the toughest criticisms head-on, admits where it fell short, and pledges to do better. This mindset is supported by the legendary gameplay of one of the best open world, PVP-focused, sandbox MMOs ever. Okay, I might be a little bit biased with that last part.

Can you folks clarify the three-account policy – is that per person, per family, per household, per IP? What sort of recourse is there for players to get some leeway for that rule?

The Unchained policy is straightforward: We permit players to maintain three accounts per person. It’s easy for us to see patterns of alternate accounts interacting with a main account. We rely on aggregating gameplay activity to identify alt abusers because it’s super easy to use a VPN service, run VMs, change MAC addresses, etc. if we used those as hard variables. We won’t get lost in the minutiae; our goal is disrupting the “alt trains” that have negatively impacted the Legacy service.

A couple of weeks ago when I was listening to Khrolan explain the ArchePass and diligence systems, I remember thinking that it sounded pretty complicated for a general MMO audience that may not have ever dipped into AA. Do you anticipate needing to smooth out some of those complexities going forward, or do you figure the types of people who buy Unchained are already on board with ArcheAge’s mechanics and terminology? This is an audience question more than anything, I suppose – is Unchained aimed mostly at current/former ArcheAge players, or the broader MMO playerbase?

ArcheAge has some super deep and complex systems. In a world of oversimplification, we embrace this as a differentiator even if it means we appeal less to a broader audience. We’re okay with that. The ArchePass is a standard battle royale-inspired “Battle Pass” refactored in terms of ArcheAge. Players complete objectives, make a bar go up, and get great free rewards for doing so.

Does Gamigo foresee ever needing to change the game’s business model? I don’t just mean for the folks saying they won’t try it if it’s not free-to-play, since that would sort of make no sense with this format, but rather for the future – are you confident that initial sales and cosmetics can sustain the game long-term? What’s the plan if it can’t?

Tough question asked very politely. I know players are worried about the future of the Unchained business model because they’ve seen many games launch with a fair marketplace design in mind, only to compromise their morals after not hitting revenue targets. The difference here is ArcheAge has been a successful game for 5+ years globally. The Legacy version will continue to run alongside Unchained, and I’m confident that’s enough to sustain us. We’re more concerned about exposing this great version of the game to everyone we turned off by our previous approach.

Has Gamigo given any thought to what it will do should Unchained not manage to retain sufficient players long-term? Obviously we hope that won’t be the case, but we’re thinking of how RIFT’s progression server was shut down earlier this year – would the company make provisions to ensure that Unchained characters were rescued somehow should Unchained close down?

With the amount of hype and excitement around Unchained I think it’s highly unlikely. However, since we’re playing “What if’s” the responsible thing to do in that situation would be to have an open, transparent dialogue with the community, and arrive at a solution. I think the absolute worst case would be to consolidate servers and continue to support the game at a smaller scale.

On the flipside of that, what happens if everyone flocks to Unchained and the original servers start to become ghost towns – what’s the plan there?

Similar answer to the previous one: We care about the community down to the last person who plays the game. Ultimately, we’d consolidate and run the Legacy service with a single mega server. We have some unique plans prepared for the Legacy service though and if history is any indication, Legacy players don’t easily abandon their massive progress and flock to fresh start servers.

Finally, do XL and Gamigo have any other sorts of “progression” type servers in the works for the future?

Not currently. We’ve placed our focus on Legacy, Unchained, and the upcoming Shadows Revealed update!

We’d like to thank Khrolan for his candor with both us and the community! ArcheAge Unchained is currently set to roll out on October 15th as a buy-to-play MMO, and preorders are indeed open right now. Gamigo is currently planning another ArcheAge stream today at 1 p.m. EDT on Twitch.

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